Variations on a Highway

K Roberts

(USA)


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No teapot is brewing in the beige hotel where my suitcase sits, stuffed with everything except what my heart needs. 

The pillowcases, packed last, unpacked first, are exchanged for dubious strange linens.  Curious houseflies explore the sticky ceiling. A metal door in the corridor announces each late-arriving guest with a bang.

“Maaahm, when dwee get there?” A child’s mosquito whine. The reply, a single word. A mother’s voice sharpened down by a whetstone of gritty roadside stops, filling stations, by the orange plastic masquerade of home cooking served in restaurants with coffee that pours like melted tar; I imagine it’s accompanied with a warning shake of the child’s arm.

*****

I’m remembering how it felt, being a child confined in the back seat of a car with nothing to do. Curled tight as a dozing cat’s tail. Painted lines whiskering past in the rearview mirror. Power cables scissor-cutting the scenery into scrolling strips, along a deserted farm-to-market Texas road.  

Miles of scrubland and ranches passed; blank, repetitive, and empty as pages in a school notebook set aside for future spelling lessons… Until a little town breezed by, scribbling its doodles, adding tiny captions, making me pivot to see the wooden steeple’s exclamation point, the red stop sign periods. Somewhere, there must be a brooding courthouse, rusting playgrounds – and abruptly, the story ends, with the familiar moral:

You Are Now Leaving.

*****

When our family car pulled over for a rest stop, bulky and laden as a whaling ship coming into the harbour, I was cautious; my spaghetti legs were reluctant, after endless hours of endless motion, to believe flat earth walking to be possible again. 

I never wandered onto exotic paths or side streets that beckoned, like a green apprentice on shore leave. My agoraphobic nightmares, then and now, were of watching the others sail away, leaving me alone to drown in the vast, uncharted sea of Middle America.

K Roberts

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.

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